This article is part of the semi-regular column, The BBQ Chronicles. Click the pig for more of this great column.
Below the fall line of North Carolina, the pace of life changes and so does the style of barbeque. Cotton mills, mostly in the past now, big city bankers and the red hills of the Piedmont give way to the tobacco and hogs of the Coastal Plain. Be assured the barbeque is pork, just as is the Lexington or Western North Carolina style. After all, nearly 15 percent of American hog production comes from this area.
The best Eastern style is cooked slowly over wood coals. However, in Eastern North Carolina the pit master starts with a whole hog rather than a pork shoulder. Eastern barbeque is basted and served with a simple vinegar and pepper mixture with no hint of tomatoes and very little or no sugar. (Yes, this mixture is referred to as sauce, while in Lexington they have “dip”.) Finally, the Eastern version is served with coleslaw rather than the barbeque slaw of Lexington.
Melinda and I have eaten at a number of Eastern barbeque restaurants, and Wilber’s is a favorite of ours and has the plaques and magazine articles on the wall to prove that it is the favorite of a lot of people. Just east of Goldsboro on US 70, it is in the heart of the Eastern barbeque region and has been around for a long time, since 1962. It seems to appeal to a nonpartisan crowd, having hosted both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
We visited Wilber’s again recently. The first thing I noticed about the menu is that one can order “barbeque pork” – period; there is no choice of course chopped, minced, and certainly no sliced pork. The meat of the entire hog is pulled and finely chopped. As with all true Eastern style barbeque, it is all about the meat. The preparation is to simply cook the whole hog slowly over wood coals until it is done. A little vinegar sauce may be used to baste, but just to help keep the meat moist. The meat is served with a bottle of vinegar sauce on the side. Use it sparingly so the flavor of the meat can stand out. The flavor of Eastern North Carolina barbeque is similar to the Lexington style, but there is a slight difference in appearance with Eastern style having both light and dark meat and often some flecks of crispy skin.
The meat is usually served with coleslaw and maybe potato salad, if on a plate; or on a bun topped with coleslaw, if a sandwich. If the pork is properly cooked, as was the case at Wilber’s, it is a gastronomical treat, with the creamy coleslaw balancing the tartness and acidity of the pork and sauce. And, of course, an Eastern barbeque meal begins with hush puppies and typically sweet iced tea. And most Eastern North Carolina barbeque restaurants have banana pudding for a sweet ending.
The Short List (Eat here Now!)
4172 Hwy 70 East
4618 S. Lee Street
2514 US Highway 301S
6203 Millhouse Road
Chapel Hill, NC